A plot anything but simple

Dead Simple

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

****

PETER James’ Roy Grace detective series is well known and well loved. Dead Simple started life as a novel and has been adapted for the stage cleverly by Shaun McKenna and it makes a gripping, chilling addition to the stage repertoire.

As a story it grew out of Peter James’ claustrophobia and an analysis of the human deepest fears – being alone and being buried alive.

If you have claustrophobia on top, it makes for a few gruelling minutes. But there’s also some humour, mostly black humour from the police and wonderful lighter moments from Davey Wheeler.

Michael Harrison (Jamie Lomas), unseemly rich Brighton property developer and notorious prankster, is due to be married.

His stag night looms. Friend and business partner Mark Warren (Rik Makarem) assures him that nothing is planned. But as the night draws nigh, with Mark away in Leeds, Michael’s friends break in to kidnap him, enclose him in a coffin and bury him alive.

Circumstances conspire that he cannot be freed. His only contact is Davey Wheeler (Josh Brown), the son of a tow truck company, who, for reasons of his own, is unable to do anything. So far, so bad.

‘Sweetly angelic’ (!) fiancee Ashley Harper (Tina Hobley) and ‘Uncle Bo’ from Toronto (Michael McKell) prepare for the wedding seemingly unaware of Michael’s fate. More twists ensue as Mark, so-called friend, is closer to Ashley than anyone knew, and he removes all trace of Michael’s whereabouts. He is alone and buried alive.

It’s time for the police to be involved. Detective Superintendent Roy Grace (Gray O’Brien) is in trouble for involving a psychic, Zoe Frame (Sarah Baxendale), in an investigation, so Ashley, on the quiet, provides him with Michael’s bracelet.

Detective Sergeant Branson (Marc Small) provides a foil for Roy Grace and together, with different methods they find and free Michael Harrison. But are they in time? And who’s been playing a part?

A brilliant set on two levels that really earns its keep, clever writing and plot that, though Roy Grace announces it to be ‘dead simple’, is anything but. Directed by Ian Talbot, there is a high corpse count, granted, and the dead do seem to be the simple, trusting souls. To 31-01-15

Jane Howard

26-01-15 

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